Being different isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
State Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, struck a nerve on Wednesday when he told a Lawrence Chamber of Commerce gathering that “KU and Lawrence are not very well respected” in the Kansas Legislature because they are viewed as too liberal.
Brown’s comment really should come as no surprise to Lawrence and Kansas University officials, but that doesn’t mean that they should take such abuse lying down.
Exactly how different Lawrence is from the rest of the state is open to debate but many of the differences people could cite about our city are decidedly positive, not negative. We have a vital community that always draws high marks for its quality of life. Large numbers of retirees who no longer are tied to jobs in other cities and can live anywhere they want choose to return to Lawrence because of its ambiance, its location close to a metropolitan area and, often most importantly, because it is the home to a major teaching and research university.
KU is a primary factor in what sets Lawrence apart from many Kansas communities — in a good way. It draws many highly educated people to Lawrence and enjoys a strong national reputation. It is the only university in Kansas to be ranked by the Fiske Guide to Colleges and to hold membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities.
University activities add tremendously to the artistic, athletic and cultural offerings in Lawrence. The research and teaching done at KU benefits Kansas students, Kansas business, Kansas health care and many other facets of the state.
With all that Lawrence and the university have to offer to local residents as well as to people across the state, why would it have “a bad reputation” in the Kansas Legislature?
Maybe they just need to get to know us a little better.
The sad truth is that Brown’s statement is correct; many legislators do think Lawrence is too liberal or too different and he’s not wrong when he says that perception “needs to change.” But it won’t change if Lawrence and KU let statements like Brown’s go unchallenged. Lawrence and KU need to do a better job of telling their stories!
They need to meet with legislators and other state leaders, talk to them one on one about what KU and Lawrence have to offer. They should go into the conversation armed with facts and anecdotal evidence — not with a chip on their shoulders or an arrogant attitude. Legislators and other leaders need to understand that the people in Lawrence and Douglas County aren’t really so different from people in the rest of the state (many people who live in Lawrence grew up in other parts of the state) — and that whatever differences we have should be viewed as a potential benefit for the state, rather than qualifying us to be locked in the attic (How many elected and appointed state officials actually choose to live here and commute to Topeka?).
Rather than be angry about Brown’s comments, KU and Lawrence should take them as a challenge. There is plenty that state officials should like about Lawrence. Let’s tell them all about it.